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Amendment 18

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:07 am on 15th January 2020.

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd:

Moved by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd

18: Clause 22, page 26, line 28, at end insert—“( ) But regulations under this Part may not amend or repeal the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 2006 or the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”Member’s explanatory statementThis would ensure that regulations made under this Part may not make provision to amend the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 2006, and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in line with restrictions under new paragraph 11G, Schedule 2 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Clause 19).

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Judge

My Lords, yesterday, I explained the purpose of the amendments that we sought to make at that stage, and the first, second and fourth amendments in this group all underlie the same purpose; namely, to ensure that if changes are necessary to the devolution settlements, they are dealt with in a proper constitutional manner, and that when we are outside the EU, the spirit, as well as the letter, of the devolution settlements is followed and the Government at Westminster pay the greatest regard to those.

I should make it clear, as I did yesterday, that I approach this from the standpoint of Wales, in part because that is where, by and large, my experience comes from, and because the union and its continuation is so important to Wales. It is essential that this House, and, I hope, Her Majesty’s Government, give every encouragement to those in Wales who wish to see the union strengthened, and by close co-operation. It may seem that these devolution issues are not that important at this time, but they are. It is inevitable that the devolution schemes will have to be looked at in the light of our departure from the European Union.

I will deal with each of the three proposed amendments, the first of which seeks to amend Clause 22. I intend to say very little about this. It follows on from last night’s debate on the amendments to Clause 21 and the extent to which powers conferred in that clause are not subject to limitations. The same arguments apply to Clause 22. In light of the position that was left last night, I see no point in advancing the arguments to the same effect all over again.

On Clause 26 and Amendment 23, in a way, this amendment comes out of order, because it presupposes that the amendments suggested that would delete proposed new subsections 5A and 5B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and other noble Lords, will not proceed. I will make some observations in due course in support of the objectives of the clause, but not on the manner in which those objectives are sought to be carried out. I will make those observations when we come to that amendment. This amendment addresses a much simpler issue: the importance of giving due regard to the views of the devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland and—now that it is again in place—Northern Ireland, in formulating any draft regulations of the kind envisaged in the clause, both as to the courts that are to be entitled to depart from previous decisions and the tests that are to be applied.

The clause rightly provides for prior consultation with the judiciary if Ministers decide to proceed in this way. Although Wales’s judiciary is linked with that of England at present, I ought to declare that I presided over a commission appointed by the Welsh Government that examined the future of the legal system in Wales, and in particular, the possible establishment in due course—long outside the scope of the time of this Bill, of course—of a separate judiciary in Wales. The clause also provides for other persons to be consulted but does not list them. Neither Welsh, nor Scottish nor Northern Ireland Ministers are included in the list of consultees. However, bearing in mind that retained EU case law is comprehensive in its definition, and that both the devolved legislatures and the devolved Governments have made legislation and acted on the basis of current law within the devolved fields, it seems obvious that they should be consulted if there is to be a change in the scope of the courts and a new test is to be laid down. They are vitally affected by it, and they should not be left out. The amendment is simple, asking that the role of the devolved Assemblies and Administrations be recognised. I understand that when this clause first appeared in the Bill, there had been no prior discussion with Welsh Ministers about this issue. I hope that the Government will look at it and give the closest possible attention to this amendment.

On Clause 38 and Amendment 45, as the report of the Constitution Committee states in welcoming this clause’s recognising the sovereignty of Parliament, the clause has no legal effect. It may therefore be surprising that I wish to take up time on a clause that has no legal effect. However, the Explanatory Memorandum also makes it clear that there is no material difference to the position of Parliament. Yet I agree that there are circumstances in which it is useful to remind people of the basics of our constitution, and this is no exception.

However, this amendment has been tabled because if there is to be such a reminder—the clause can have no purpose other than that—it should be recognised that since 1998, there has been a significant change to the constitution and in particular to the devolved schemes of administration. In failing to refer to the Sewel convention, which provides that Parliament will not normally legislate without the agreement of the National Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Government of Northern Ireland in relation to devolved matters, the clause does not put in place the correct balance of our constitution as it now moves forward. The amendment has been tabled to provide such a reference. It would ensure that for the future—as I hope would be the case in any event—the importance of the devolution settlement is critical to how the union is preserved as we go forward to our life outside the European Union. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 11:15 am, 15th January 2020

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has made an obviously reasonable and appropriate case for the propriety of the Government consulting with Ministers in the devolved Assemblies. That is not only good politics, it is good manners, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord who will be replying on behalf of the Government will readily accept that that is appropriate. I hope, therefore, that he will be willing to accept Amendment 23.

Amendment 45 is an amendment to a clause that is in any case otiose, so I do not think it is necessary for the Government to accept it, but again I hope that the Minister will affirm that of course the Government will want to follow the usual conventions and established procedures for legislative consent.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I wish to speak to three of the amendments in this group. Yesterday I spoke in support of Amendment 15, and those remarks are relevant to Amendment 18 so I will not repeat them. It is important to ensure that our concerns about the Bill are recognised. One is that, as currently written, the Bill can be interpreted as not respecting the union, which becomes extremely important constitutionally.

Amendment 23 relates to Clause 26 and the potential role of the courts, other than the Supreme Court, in the future. The difficulty arises in having due regard to the devolved Administrations, as my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has outlined. Legislation that has already been passed by the Senedd, the Welsh Assembly Government, reflects European rulings. If those rulings are changed in the future, the Assembly will have to address the changes. The difficulty, of course, is that if it has not been consulted on all the changes to the way appeals can be made, it could find itself in an extremely difficult position.

This amendment, like the others that we have tabled, is therefore designed to prevent avoidable problems emerging in the future. I cannot see that anything in our amendments would undermine the Government’s ability to move forward with their withdrawal Bill, but they would make sure that the legislative powers already held by the Senedd and the Welsh Government are respected.

Our amendment to Clause 38 is necessary because, as written, it fails to refer to the Sewel convention and therefore risks undermining the devolution settlements. If the Government do not wish to accept the amendment, one could suggest another way forward by deleting the entire clause, although I suspect that they are less minded to do that than to insert something short to respect the devolved settlements.

I also signal my support for Amendment 29 in the group, because again it aims to safeguard the devolution settlements from unilateral amendment by Ministers of the Crown. Although the conduct of international negotiations is a reserved matter, which everyone respects, the amendment would ensure that the impact on the devolution settlements are recognised and would give the devolved institutions the responsibility to make arrangements to implement international agreements as they go forward.

Essentially, we are asking to be consulted and to be kept in the loop. We are not asking for a veto, but our amendments ask for the devolution settlement to be respected, as it works at the moment with an intact union.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, my name is also attached to Amendments 18, 23 and 45. I am very pleased to support the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.

The issues at question are issues of trust between the devolved Governments and the Government of the United Kingdom. Nobody is arguing that the devolved Governments have power over international treaties—of course they do not; they are reserved powers. None the less, what will be undertaken in those treaties will almost certainly have a very direct effect on matters that are devolved, some of them fully, to the National Assembly for Wales, and likewise to Scotland and Northern Ireland in slightly different ways.

To that extent, there have been occasions when the UK Government has been well represented in negotiations in Brussels by Ministers from the Government of Wales. It is perfectly right that they should be there on matters such as the sheepmeat regime or when questions of smaller languages are debated. When such matters arise, as is likely, in the context of any ongoing treaties or new treaties that will emerge, it is vital that the confidence of the Welsh Government and the National Assembly, and likewise that of Scotland and Northern Ireland, is taken fully into account.

The real danger is that things happen by default. The UK Government, with all the good will in the world, might think that issues do not arise without having talked about them. There needs to be some system to avoid unnecessary tension and rows between the various Governments within the United Kingdom.

I did not participate in the debate last night, but I read with considerable interest the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank. He said:

“This debate has taken a turn that I had not anticipated—the notion that a power is now being granted to the Government to undo that which has been set before: if you like, the magisterium of the law which sets up the elements of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. That is not the purpose of this rule.”

He goes on to say that he would be happy to make a note available

“to all noble Lords who are interested in this, so they can see where we believe this power will be required”.—[Official Report, 14/1/20; col. 639.]

The point is that if the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, has recognised that there is a need for greater clarification than is provided in the Bill, surely with the Bill still going to Parliament there is an opportunity to table amendments, such as the ones proposed in this group, to safeguard the position. It is not enough to have a sentence in Hansard. That obviously helps to clarify the position, but there needs to be something more cast-iron than that.

This is not a party-political issue, it is a matter of getting means of sensible co-operation into the Bill. If the Government cannot accept the amendments now, I very much hope that between now and Report they will consider these issues and try to bring in some form of wording that gives an assurance in the Bill along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, suggested last night.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, these amendments are designed to cement the established position of the devolved Administrations in the new situation in which we will find ourselves.

Amendment 18 to Clause 22 relates to any amendment to the statutes establishing devolution. They can be amended by a Section 109 Order in Council as long as the devolved Administrations agree but, as the clause stands, it leads to a suspicion that the Government could take the power to change devolution settlements without the agreement of, for instance, the National Assembly of Wales. We need the Government to make it clear one way or the other that they do not intend to do this.

Amendment 23 to Clause 26 simply adds devolved Ministers to the list of those to be consulted before the Government bring forward regulations referred to in that clause. Amendment 45 to Clause 38 relates to the Sewel convention. It simply inserts the well-established principle that Parliament will not normally legislate on devolved matters without legislative consent from the National Assembly for Wales.

I want to spend a little longer on Amendment 29, which puts the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations on a statutory footing and requires representatives of devolved Administrations to be briefed regularly on future relationship negotiations. The history of the JMC as a whole has been chequered, to say the least. I have been privileged to see it from both sides: from the Welsh perspective as a Minister between 2000 and 2003 in a coalition in the National Assembly, and from 2011 to 2015 when I was a Minister in the Wales Office here.

In the early years, 2000 to 2003, I would describe the JMC as having been part of an old boys’ network. Labour was in power, in government, both here and in Cardiff, where it led the coalition. There was a dangerous lack of formality about the business we did. It was very good humoured but it did not have structure and was slightly erratic. It at least met regularly, if not frequently, but its behaviour was erratic. From 2010, I would characterise relationships as at the other end of the spectrum, with the coalition Government— the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives—here, the SNP in Scotland and Labour in Wales, as well as the complexity of Northern Ireland. I would say it was more of an armed standoff in those years. It provided an opportunity to have a well-scripted, very formal row with each other, with people coming out on to the steps of Downing Street to tell the world what they had said on their side of the argument. As a result, not surprisingly, it did not meet that frequently. Having observed the JMC in recent times, it does not seem to have got much better.

The devolved Administrations have drawn a lot of their strength and confidence from their vital EU links, which affect so much of the devolved work that is taken in those countries. Those links are now to be severed. As a Welsh Minister in the early years of this century, for instance, I represented the combined Governments of the UK at a European Council of Ministers; the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, referred to that kind of situation in his speech. I presented the agreed joint position of those Governments. It has given the devolved Administrations status and strength and is a very important part of their overall situation.

As we leave the EU, it is doubly important that the role of the devolved Administrations is fully recognised and enshrined in law, as this amendment attempts to do because it refers to the frequency of meetings, as well as to the establishment of the principle. As we go forward, it is vital that the devolved Administrations have the right to know the Government’s intentions which will affect them and their work. My experience of government here is that the relevance and importance of an issue to the devolved Administrations are very often overlooked. A Minister here is effectively a Minister for England. It is often forgotten that certain decisions have a real impact on Scotland and Wales.

I urge the Minister to accept these amendments. If that is not possible at the moment, I would urge him to bring back something that will reassure the devolved Administrations in these respects.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 11:30 am, 15th January 2020

My Lords, your Lordships are being spared a long speech from me simply because the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has made it for me.

I want to focus on Amendment 29. When we were debating the first European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the irregularity and lack of efficiency of the JMC was referred to again and again. We identified exempted items from the provisions that would need to be set within a framework in order to try to establish an internal market for our country. We identified that, subsequent to the passing of that piece of legislation, the JMC would need to perform better to guarantee that what we were asking for would come to pass. That has not happened.

Amendment 29 seeks to tighten up on a resolution we made then and which we have had the chance to monitor since. If the proposals before us go through, a statutory basis, a serious performance and an impact assessement will be needed if we are to have the trusting relationship between the Administrations in these islands which will guarantee that the desires of the Government are implemented in an appropriate way. This is the shortened version of my speech. I know that your Lordships are rather sad at not getting it in full.

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour

My Lords, I endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Griffiths and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on Amendment 29. Your Lordships will recall that it is nearly 23 years since the people of Wales and Scotland voted for devolution. It is almost 22 years since the people of Northern Ireland voted for the Good Friday agreement and the establishment of devolution there. Happily, last week we saw the restoration of the institutions of government and democracy in Northern Ireland.

The political landscape of our country has changed tremendously during the past two decades. Having been the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Wales, I am not convinced that Governments of either persuasion—nor the coalition— understood, in the course of those 20 years, what devolution was all about. Certainly, the relationships between the United Kingdom Government and those in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh could have been better. I am one of those old boys to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred. Back in 2003, we had Labour Governments in Scotland, Wales and England. It was a bit cosy, inevitably. Things changed after that. We never had a Labour Government, of course, in Northern Ireland.

The Joint Ministerial Committee, for which I held Cabinet responsibility from 2007 onwards, never really worked. It was a great idea, bringing together Ministers from all the different Administrations but it did not work as it should have done. It did not meet as frequently as it should have done. I am not convinced that even under the new designation of Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations it has been all that successful, but it has been a bit better than previous incarnations. Now is the chance because our constitution has changed dramatically, not just because of devolution but because of what we are debating today.

Our departure from the European Union and all that involves in constitutional matters has to be looked at in the context of devolution as well. I hope that the Minister will look very carefully at Clause 29 in particular and put when and how JMCs meet on a proper statutory footing. If JMCs do not work then the trust and the confidence between the three devolved Administrations—one now very new—and the United Kingdom Government will evaporate. A number of noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, have made the point that unless we get the devolution settlement post Brexit right, it will threaten the union. The Government talk about the precious union all the time but it can be threatened if we do not take the devolved Administrations seriously in their role within the United Kingdom. If this does not work then the movement for independence in Scotland will get even stronger and movement towards a united Ireland might actually happen in Northern Ireland. I do not want any of those things to happen. I am a unionist with a small “u”. The best way to prevent that and to restore strength in the union is to ensure that we respect the devolution settlement, and these amendments do precisely that.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I bring a Scottish voice in support of the arguments that have been advanced in the amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and by other noble Lords who have spoken. These are important points, not only as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, has just said, for maintenance of the union but also for many practical reasons. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, no one disputes that the negotiation of an international treaty is a matter devolved to the United Kingdom Government. However, we have to recognise that much of the subject matter of many of these agreements will fall to the devolved Administrations to implement; it will be in areas of devolved competence. Therefore, it is important that there be proper engagement with the devolved Administrations in reaching these agreements, not only to ensure a community of interest within these islands but to give those with whom we are negotiating some reassurance that what they are negotiating will be implemented properly by the various devolved Administrations. If the people from the devolved Administrations are not present, something may be missing in the reassurances they are seeking.

In paragraph 114 of the report published yesterday by the Constitution Committee—of which I am a member—the committee reiterated what it said in its report last year on the parliamentary scrutiny of treaties:

“As part of its treaty-making after the UK leaves the European Union, the UK Government must engage effectively with the devolved institutions on treaties that involve areas of devolved competence … The UK Government will need to consult the devolved governments about their interests when opening negotiations, not just to respect the competences of those governments but also in acknowledgement of the important role devolved administrations may play in the implementation of new international obligations”.

In paragraph 115, the Constitution Committee recommends that

“the Government set out before the Bill’s report stage what its process for consultation and engagement with Parliament and with the devolved authorities will be in respect of the future relationship negotiations with the European Union”.

Amendment 29 goes further than that and wants to put it in the Bill; that is probably worth while.

Some noble Lords will recall that, when the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations was established—I think, in the autumn of 2016—great commitments were made about the intention of the United Kingdom Government to engage at every step of the way in the negotiations to get a withdrawal agreement. Yet we know that, for many months, that Joint Ministerial Committee never even met. This is not the place to go into why it did not meet, but good intentions were not delivered on. We know that there were good intentions. In replying to the debate on the gracious Speech last Wednesday, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, said the following in response to a similar point that I and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, made then:

“the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, asked about the representation of the devolved Administrations in negotiations on our future relationship. We recognise the need for their close involvement in negotiations on our future relationship with the EU in order to deliver a satisfactory outcome”.—[Official Report, 8/1/20; col. 289.]

That was a statement of intent with which I could have no dispute, but we want more: we want how it will work in practice to be fleshed out. Given that the Joint Committee on EU Negotiations has not had a happy track record—it improved as time went on—many of us would feel more reassured if it was on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

Is it not difficult to legislate for a committee to meet more often when it does not meet often enough?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the amendment would establish that it should meet, and some timescales are set down. My concern relates to good intentions. No one disputes the good intentions for the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations when established, but they were not carried through in practice. When the Minister comes to reply—I am not sure which Minister it will be—I am sure that we will be told of good intentions. We want to ensure that good intentions are delivered on.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment 18. It would be very much in the Government’s interest to buy the amendment; it is quite hard to see what arguments could be made in public against their doing so.

I want to speak briefly to Amendment 29, to which I have put my name. I have little to add to what was said on the subject by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—she knows much more about it than me. I disagree only with one thing that I think she said, which was that the JMC had tended to meet regularly but not frequently. It might have been better to say that it met rather irregularly and very infrequently.

I am pleased to be able to say that my text for this debate comes from a point made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, when he stressed the need for courtesy and respect in the handling of the devolved Administrations. I strongly agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness: things are getting very tense. I agree with the point made earlier in discussion on this group of amendments that the devolution settlement is in clear and present danger. As we approach the minutiae of this Bill, we need to have the broader picture in mind. Fine words have been said and undertakings given by successive Front-Bench spokesmen, but they are not perceived in Cardiff or in Edinburgh to have been delivered on. That is why it is a good idea to write into statute the role of the JMC.

That for me is the second-best option. The best option would be to include representatives of the devolved Administrations in the negotiating teams that go to Brussels when the subject for discussion is going to touch on the competence of the devolved Administrations. The battle over common frameworks will be very much easier if the devolved Administrations believe they have been involved in the substance of the negotiations.

I recall that when we first joined the European Union, long before I was born, the first representatives to discuss, for example, fisheries in Brussels were John Silkin accompanied by Bruce Millen and Willie Ross. It was frequently the Scots who spoke on fisheries in the Council, although the legal establishment from London was sitting alongside them. I see no difficulty of principle, and I hope the Government do not, in including the representative devolved Administrations in the negotiating team.

Realistically, I do not believe that the Government will do that, and I have to admit that, as a former negotiator myself, I see the arguments for a very cohesive delegation. If we do not include the devolved Administrations directly in the negotiation, we have to have a really reliable and perceived-as-genuine system for informing them of our objectives in the negotiation, and tell them how we are getting on.

I would not die a death for the precise language of Amendment 29, but it writes into the Bill the fact that the JMC shall have a real job to do in scrutinising what the Government intend to do, advising them on how to do it and hearing how they are getting on. I therefore support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour 11:45 am, 15th January 2020

Many distinguished Lords have spoken on the amendments, and I agree with them all, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who is just leaving. It illustrates the lack of comprehension that there has been about how the British union state has changed, and how its pluralism has changed and become a more central feature.

I have had the great privilege of being on the Constitution Committee for the past four years, and this issue kept recurring. It is not a dispute or debate that has suddenly emerged; it came in Bill after Bill connected with constitutional relationships and with trade, yet somehow it was not resolved, mainly because the devolved Assemblies were being bypassed, often in a very hurtful way, leading to accusations of power grab and such statements.

The issues that have been mentioned include: reserved powers for the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Governments, an issue that has come several times and has not yet been dealt with properly; and the outcome of European legislation when it is transferred to this country, which has not been adequately dealt with either. We discussed this frequently on the Constitution Committee and wrote what I thought was a very important survey of intergovernmental relations. It seemed to have very little effect on ministerial thinking, or indeed on thinking about the nature and importance of devolution throughout our country.

In particular, there is the inadequacy of the Joint Ministerial Council, which is mentioned in Amendment 29. The JMC is an almost hopeless body that has staggered on for two decades with no clear membership, no clear times for convening, and very little effect in real intergovernmental consultation, so I very much hope, as everybody does, that the Government will feel able to accept these proposals. Otherwise, the effect could be disastrous. Our union is in grave danger. People refer primarily to Scotland, but in my experience discontent in Wales is certainly much stronger than it was. It would be tragic if inattention and carelessness led to our leaving not one important union, but two.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, following not just yesterday’s speeches, but those today from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, my noble friends Lord Howarth, Lord Griffiths, Lord Murphy and Lord Morgan, the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, from Wales, as well as welcome additions to our West Country debate from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, the Government should have heard by now that the devolved authorities and people close to them feel somewhat squeezed out of the Government’s handling of our withdrawal from the EU and our future relationship with it, and of how the Government plan to discuss, or not, with those representatives as we go forward. That was probably not helped by the response of the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, last night.

We particularly welcome Amendments 18, 23 and 45, accepting in particular that, if we really must have an albeit non-legally enforceable statement about the sovereignty of Parliament in the Bill, it surely has to be accompanied by at least an equivalent nod to the devolution settlements and the Sewel convention to safeguard the union, as my noble friend Lord Murphy emphasised.

Looking towards the future, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said earlier this week that devolved Governments have an interest in all the negotiations. It is not simply the bits that can be identified as within their competence, because how agriculture pans out will absolutely affect the future of those countries. So will other parts of trade.

Our Amendment 29 in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Kerr, seeks to achieve the input of the devolved authorities in the negotiations. As we have heard, it would place the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations on a statutory footing—something that we have urged on the Government since its formation in 2016. As my noble friend Lord Morgan reminded us, it has been pretty constantly discussed in the Constitution Committee. The amendment would ensure regular and frequent meetings of the JMC on EU Negotiations, which as we have heard, has at times been sidelined, especially when it was seen as a bit inconvenient. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said that it had a “chequered” history. As my noble friend, Lord Griffiths, reminded us, it was not used in the way intended when it was set up. Importantly—we have not heard this voice this morning—the amendment would also require the JMC to focus on the very unique challenges facing Northern Ireland, including the aspects discussed in your Lordships’ House last night.

The amendment also covers the relationship between the JMC—the Joint Ministerial Committee—and the new and, as we have heard, highly important UK/EU Joint Committee. For example, the Secretary of State would have to brief British members of the Joint Committee to make sure they knew what the JMC was discussing, so that discussions held with the devolved authorities were fed in to the UK negotiators. This is vital. The British members of the Joint Committee, who would, of course, be Ministers, would have to give regard to the views of the Joint Ministerial Committee, which brings together the devolved authorities. They would also have to bear in mind the requirement of the Northern Ireland protocol to facilitate trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

It is particularly important, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said, to realise that, in addition to a general interest in all these negotiations, much of the implementation will fall to the devolved authorities. As any of us who have been involved in developing policy know, if you do not discuss beforehand how it is going to be implemented, the chances are that the policy will not work.

Given the importance of ensuring that Brexit works for all parts of the UK, including the devolved nations, and given the concerns of the devolved Administrations that they are being excluded from vital talks—as we have heard, an amendment which we will come to later about the authority of courts has been tabled without any consultation with them—we look forward to a rather more positive response from the Minister when he replies. If the response is really positive, it might help the Welsh Assembly to consider whether it wants to give its legislative consent to this Bill.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments. The thread that binds together the amendments spoken to by the noble and learned Lord and other noble Lords is their entirely legitimate interest in the Government’s level of engagement with the devolved Administrations and the protection of the devolution settlements. Having listened also to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I fully understand that these amendments particularly reflect some of the concerns raised by colleagues in the Welsh Government. I hope I can reassure the Committee that these amendments are not necessary and the Government are fully committed to proper engagement with the devolved Administrations.

I turn first to Amendment 18. It is clear to me that the concern here is about the scope and breadth of the powers in this clause. I hope that I can address those concerns satisfactorily. I should add that the Government have also taken note of the report produced by our noble colleagues in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in relation to the powers contained in this Bill.

I hope I am right in understanding that the noble and learned Lord is concerned that, without this amendment, the devolved authorities would be able to use the powers provided in Clause 22 to implement the protocol and, in doing so, would be able to amend the devolution statutes in those areas where they have such competence. However, I am afraid I have to resist this amendment because the restriction proposed by it risks preventing the United Kingdom fulfilling its international obligations, which stem from the Northern Ireland protocol. The noble and learned Lord will understand that we must be able to fulfil those obligations as a responsible player in the international system and as a close partner of our European neighbours. The particular problem with the amendment is that the proposed restriction would prevent the devolved authorities adopting certain decisions agreed between the UK and the EU in the Joint Committee, in relation to the operationalisation—if I may use such a word—of the protocol in areas of devolved competence. I must make it clear that that risk to the UK being able to fulfil its international obligations is unacceptable to the Government.

This amendment would have the effect of preventing amendments to the devolution statutes, even in situations where the devolved Administrations agreed to an exercise of the power in new paragraph 11M(2) jointly with the UK Government. This restriction could therefore hinder the introduction of UK-wide legislation that has been agreed on by all four nations of the United Kingdom. The Government could not allow such a situation.

It is important for me to make it clear that the Government are committed to not unduly restricting devolved competence as a result of our departure from the EU. Indeed, the limits of devolved competence in relation to the use of the power contained in proposed new paragraph 11(M) are clearly laid out in the remainder of the clause. No doubt the noble and learned Lord will tell me if I have not addressed his concerns satisfactorily, but I hope I have and that, on reflection, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I turn now to Amendment 23, also in the name of the noble and learned Lord. This amendment would require a Minister of the UK Government to consult Ministers in the devolved Administrations before setting any regulations on which courts and tribunals may depart from retained EU case law. I listened carefully to the noble and learned Lord’s concerns and believe that I can offer him some reassurance.

The intention behind the clause is to give a power to make regulations to ensure that courts and tribunals across the UK are not inappropriately bound by retained EU case law after we have left the EU. It goes no further than that. We want to ensure that UK law is consistent and clear as we leave the EU legal order, but equally, we do not want to fossilise the law. We will do this in a sensible way, and the differences of opinion within the House on this important matter demonstrate the importance of taking the time to do this carefully and correctly, and in consultation with others.

The clause requires that Ministers must consult the senior judiciary across the UK before making any regulations. That is crucial to ensure that any guidance given to the courts is developed in a sensible manner. However, engagement on these regulations is not limited to the senior members of the judiciary. The clause also requires consultation of

“such other persons as the Minister … considers appropriate.”

Clearly, there is much interest and expertise in the devolved Administrations. I assure the Committee that we will work closely with them on this and always welcome input to ensure that the regulations work across the UK and are implemented properly—how could we do otherwise? I hope that that assurance is welcomed by the noble and learned Lord and he will feel able not to press the amendment.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, for speaking to Amendment 29. I am glad to have the opportunity to set out how we will engage the devolved Administrations after we leave the EU. I want to give noble Lords a firm assurance: the Government are fully committed to working closely with the devolved Administrations in our preparations for the next phase of negotiations with the EU.

There are several formations of the Joint Ministerial Committee, and the devolved Administrations have been regularly invited to attend the EU exit operations Cabinet committee. Departments also have a wide range of structures in place to enable discussion and engagement across a number of areas, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs inter-ministerial group, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy energy and climate change quad. There continues to be extensive significant work between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations on common frameworks in a range of policy areas.

The mechanisms for dialogue and full engagement are already well established. This amendment, I am afraid, would place unhelpful restrictions on conversations in all these forums, including the JMC, which is underpinned by the memorandum of understanding agreed between the Administrations of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Placing intergovernmental structures in statute would limit the capacity for discussion between all Governments to adapt to changes, particularly as circumstances evolve as we exit from the European Union.

Similarly, the amendment would also place obligations on the UK representatives to the Joint Committee. Since the arrangements for the Joint Committee are yet to be finalised with the EU, the amendment risks pre-empting those conversations and any decision on the future role of JMC Europe. I can only emphasise again that the Government fully recognise that the devolved Administrations have a strong interest in international policy-making, in so far as it impacts on matters that are devolved to each of them. The key here will be continued close engagement. That engagement to date has—contrary to some noble Lords’ pronouncements —been extensive and we mean to continue engaging in exactly that way. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter—in so far as she is acting on behalf of her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith —will feel able not to press that amendment.

I turn last, but certainly not least, to Amendment 45 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. I think it is crucial here to look at the devolution settlements and the distinction between reserved and devolved competencies. The Sewel convention has led to consistent, UK-wide legislation in a range of areas where this is beneficial to all legislatures. It has also freed up time for devolved Administrations, enabling them to adopt UK-wide legislation when expedient. The convention was later written into the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006, as the amendment states. However, this in no way limits parliamentary sovereignty. That fact is also explicit in the same devolution legislation. This position was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2017, which was clear that Sewel is a political convention and not justiciable.

The amendment suggests that the convention applies to the entering into and ratification of international treaties, such as the future relationship agreement. It does not. The entering into and ratification of treaties is a reserved matter. As a matter of law, under the devolution settlements, international relations are the responsibility of the UK Government and Parliament, which includes MPs representing all parts of the UK. However, that is not to say that the devolved Administrations do not have a direct interest in our future relationship with the EU. As I have made abundantly clear, of course they do, and we will draw on their knowledge and expertise to secure an agreement that works for the whole of the UK. As always, we will seek legislative consent for any related primary legislation, including that required to implement the agreement, in areas that are in the competence of the devolved legislatures. I do not believe that this amendment will facilitate this process any further and I therefore urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw it.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Judge 12:00 pm, 15th January 2020

I am grateful to all noble Lords, who have spoken in this debate. It has underlined how important it is for the future that we look carefully at these devolution issues and, in particular—what I regret to say is my experience as well—address a lack of understanding of the significance of devolution as we go forward.

Things have improved from the first occasion when I had to talk to an official about laying out legislation slightly more carefully so that Wales’s position was clear. He told us, “Yes, they did that in agriculture Bills for sheep, so they could easily do it in other Bills for Wales”. Things are better than that, but maybe not better enough.

It is very important that we put in place the necessary assurances—preferably in legislation, but also by way of structure. Words are fine, but deeds are better. I hope that, by raising these points, we will show that we can proceed with respect for our changed constitutional position and that we in this House—and the Government as well—can do everything possible to reduce the risk of any split in the union. With regard to Wales, it is important that those who may wish to see the union not continue be given no further ammunition for their cause.

Three amendments stand in my name and in the names of other noble Lords. The issue in Amendment 18 arose last night in relation to Clause 21. At the conclusion of the debate, the Minister said he would produce a memorandum which would try to explain why restrictions could not be placed on these powers. I still do not understand why not. These are a perfectly proper means of changing the devolution settlement. If the Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are agreeable, the Section 109 route—to take the example of Wales—will do so. I did not address this issue at any length because the better course is to await the memorandum which the Minister has promised to see how we might go forward.

On Amendment 23, I am very grateful for the assurance given and will consider that further. As to Amendment 45, the clause has no legal effect, but what is really important is that we try to show the people of Wales, of Scotland and of Ireland that things have changed. When we go forward as a United Kingdom, that is something that everyone, particularly those in London, should bear fully in mind. However, I am very grateful for all the speeches that have been made and in the light of the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.

Clause 22 agreed.

Amendment 19 not moved.

Clause 23 agreed.

Amendment 20 not moved.

Clauses 24 and 25 agreed.

Clause 26: Interpretation of retained EU law and relevant separation agreement law